Human-elephant conflict is among the most distressing yet most challenging issues in the field of conservation and forestry. Elephants are deemed to be the glue that holds forests together by maintaining their ecological integrity. Even the 100 kgs of dung they produce every single day disperse germinating seeds and restore forests.
On August 12, every year, World Elephant Day is celebrated to highlight the importance of preserving and protecting the world’s elephant population. India has managed to stabilise the population of elephants at just over 25,000 over the past several years. But their habitats and movement corridors have become increasingly fragmented, threatening their future along with that of our forest habitats.
Loss of habitat leading to conflicts
As we raise walls and build settlements and farms on their yearly migration paths, we threaten the survival of their entire herd. The growing fragmentation of tropical forests has led to a sharp rise in conflicts that threaten and harm both humans and elephants, often resulting in death and destruction. Sadly, our actions as ‘modern humans’ are pushing more ecologically significant animals like the elephants towards the brink of extinction.
Apart from the ever-present danger of poaching, the rapid shrinking of wildlife habitats is now among the primary threats to biodiversity. The less space we accord to biodiversity, the more we impinge upon the migration routes of elephants and push them into conflict with humans.
As per the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), as many as 301 elephants and 1,401 humans lost their lives in the last three years due to human-elephant conflict. The ministry provides financial and technical assistance to states/UTs under the centrally sponsored scheme ‘Project Elephant’ to protect and conserve elephants and their habitats in the country.
Bikrant Tiwary, CEO, and co-founder of social organisation Grow-Trees.com, says, “All across the world, environmentalists, activists, organisations, and governments are trying to address this issue, but there is a lot that remains unaddressed when it comes to mitigating and preventing human-elephant conflict. We need to look for solutions that are not short-term collectively.”
Can ecosystem restoration help address the crisis?
We are into the United Nations decade on ecosystem restoration (2021-2030). The UN describes ecosystem restoration as helping degraded and destroyed ecosystems recover while also protecting and conserving the still intact ecosystems. Restoration is proven to hold the potential to reverse species extinction, support local communities and enhance ecosystem services. So, can it be used to mitigate elephant-human conflicts?
Restoration and afforestation, Bikrant believes, is the long-term solution to this problem. So, Grow-Trees.com is planting millions of trees in Singhbhum Elephant Reserve, Jharkhand, to repair fragmented migration routes, create sheltered and screened areas for elephants and expand habitats.
“We are targeting areas which form a corridor for elephants that migrate from Odisha to West Bengal. Till now, we have planted a total of 6 million saplings, and the restoration of the degraded areas included the planting of local tree species, weeding, and seeding apart from natural regeneration methods,” says Bikrant.
To make this process collaborative, Grow-Trees.com also invited villagers from Laylam village to participate in the entire plantation activity and was able to generate around 490,000 workdays. But how does it help mitigate conflict?
‘Trees for Elephants’, a project from Grow-Trees.com, involves planting local trees in the Singhbhum Elephant Reserve, East Singhbhum district, Jharkhand. The targeted area is a corridor through which the elephants migrate from Odisha to West Bengal. Repairing this corridor was critical because broken links between fragmented habitats put elephants in danger and increase the chances of human-animal conflict. The organisation believes that the plantation will go a long way in expanding forest corridors and restoring elephant migration routes.
“We are committed to elephant conservation and also know that our health depends on the health of the planet and on the well-being of its eco-diversity. As climate change manifests in more and more obvious ways, trees help in the natural regeneration of forests and, on maturing, tend to absorb approximately 20 kilograms of carbon every year. More vegetation also provides improved food sources for elephants and reduces the existing human-elephant conflicts. It is time to think about what we are doing to our environment seriously, and we invite everyone, from individuals to corporations, to donate trees with just a few clicks via our website. Every little step will make a big difference to our wildlife conservation efforts,” explains Bikrant.
Like Grow-Trees, many social organisations and citizens are now stepping forward to spread awareness and mitigate wildlife-human conflicts. On this World Elephant Day, we must ensure that this trend continues and transforms into a social movement mobilising all stakeholders for conservation with compassion.
(With inputs from IANS)
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